Democracy index shows wide gaps between Jewish, Arab citizens

A majority of all Israelis say politicians are looking out for themselves and regular citizens have little influence on government

Sultan Suliman street, near the Damascus Gate in East Jerusalem (photo credit: Matanya Tausig/Flash90)
Sultan Suliman street, near the Damascus Gate in East Jerusalem (photo credit: Matanya Tausig/Flash90)

There is a wide division between Israel’s Jewish and Arab citizens on how they relate to the state, according to a new study on democracy released Sunday.

The Israel Democracy Institute found that 83 percent of Israeli Jews felt proud to be Israeli and almost 67% felt that they were a part of the state and its difficulties. By contrast, only 40% of Israeli Arab citizens felt pride in being Israeli and only 28% felt “a sense of belonging” to the state.

Last year’s study showed that 90% of Israeli Jews were proud to be Israeli, while 44.5% of Israeli Arabs said they were proud to be citizens. In 2011, 52.8% of Arabs said they were either very proud or quite proud to be Israeli.

Despite the divide between Jews and Arabs, survey director Dr. Tamar Hermann said the findings reflected democratic progress in Israel.

“IDI is like a doctor performing an annual check on his patient… This is a report on the health of the nation and its democracy,” Hermann said in a press release. “For most indicators, we don’t see dramatic changes, rather we see the quiet, positive evolution of Israeli democracy.”

An graphic display of the findings of the 2013 Israeli Democracy Index. (photo credit: Israeli Democracy Institute)
An graphic display of the findings of the 2013 Israeli Democracy Index. (photo credit: Israeli Democracy Institute)

The largest number of Jewish Israelis (43%) viewed the country’s general situation as “so-so,” while 37% said the situation in Israel was “good” and 18% considered it “bad.” Most Arab citizens (39%) said the situation in Israel was “bad,” 31% said it was “so-so,” and almost 28% said it was “good.”

The two groups did agree on some things. For example, nearly two-thirds of all Israelis agreed that “it is important to narrow the socioeconomic gaps” and would be willing to pay more taxes to do it.

A similar majority of all Israelis, 68%, felt that politicians were “more concerned with their own interests than those of the public, and 61% reported that they felt they had “little or no ability to influence government decisions.”

Despite this, a high percentage of Jewish respondents, 72%, said they were “interested in politics,” while 60% of Arab respondents said they were not.

The report also found that “the majority of both Jewish (74.6%) and Arab (67.1%) citizens of Israel are opposed to the use of violence for political ends,” but noted that “roughly a quarter of the respondents in both sectors are not repelled by the notion of employing force to achieve political objectives — a finding highly damaging to the democratic ethos of Israel, and one that represents a time bomb liable to explode during any political crisis.”

A majority of all Israelis (68%) saw the rift between Jews and Arabs as the “greatest area of friction” in Israeli society, “followed, in descending order, by tensions between rich and poor, the religious-secular divide, differences between right and left, and friction between Mizrahim and Ashkenazim.”

Forty-seven percent of Jews and 42% of Arabs said they would not want to have new neighbors who were a family from the other ethnicity. However, among Jews, a larger percentage, 56%, said that they had the most aversion to living next to a family of foreign workers, and among Arabs, 46% said they would be more upset at living next to a homosexual couple.

In considering the state, a large majority of Jews, 75%, said that Israel can be both Jewish and democratic, a view shared by only 33% of Arab citizens.

However, nearly 67% of Jews said that for security issues, “critical national decisions should be determined by a Jewish majority,” and 31% said that on a potential referendum that included a West Bank withdrawal, only Jewish citizens should have the final authority — both positions opposed by a majority of Arab citizens.

The survey was conducted between April 8 and May 2, 2013. It included 1,000 respondents and has a maximum sampling error of 3.2%.

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